Author: Jacob Goldstein
You know you’re dealing with unique cuisine—in this case, raw food—when its cultural perception stems entirely from Sex and the City. If you missed that episode, it goes something like this: the character Samantha, intrigued by the constant crowd of fashionable ladies in the new raw food restaurant, dines there only to discover that everyone hates the food. The women are there simply to flirt with the hunky male waiter. It’s a hilarious scene, but it has also made raw food synonymous with “awful food.”
With that in mind, I approached Cru in nearby Silver Lake with some apprehension. An organic, vegan and raw food restaurant—and yes, I feel pretentious just writing that—Cru hovers on the border between freshly healthy and downright weird. Raw food is not exactly the most accessible cuisine; for food to be labeled “raw,” it cannot be cooked at a temperature higher than 116 degrees Fahrenheit (the rationale behind this is that cooking food at higher temperatures destroys its natural enzymes). Combine that with the vegan aspect, and . . . well, let’s just say you’ve got one of the few restaurants in the area that prominently features cashew-nut cheese on its menu.
It is time to put aside our preconceptions—my recent lunch at Cru was absolutely outstanding. Located at 1521 Griffith Park Boulevard, the restaurant is as well decorated as it is tiny. The overall ambiance is both hip and intimate; gorgeous oversized black and white photographs hang on muted green walls, accentuated by dangling lamps and stylish dark-wood furniture. The sole server/buser/host was friendly and helpful, patiently answering our questions about the cuisine.
While there is no denying that some of items on the menu sound completely strange, my guests and I sampled two appetizers, three entrees and a dessert and all of them were very impressive. We started our meal with the “Mezzo Platter,” a tasty, Mediterranean-influenced sampler featuring cucumber tzatziki, cashew cheese, marinated kale, fig-spread and flax-seed crackers. Both the tzatziki and the cashew cheese were so rich and creamy, it seemed impossible that they were dairy-free. The flax-seed crackers made another appearance in the guacamole appetizer, providing a pleasing, nutty counterpoint to the impeccably fresh and slightly spicy guacamole.
Our entrees were equally terrific. The Deep Green Salad—a generous tower of kale, avocado, sprouts, tomato and sunflower seeds in a simple but flavorful dressing of olive oil and lemon juice—was unpretentious and delicious, not to mention impeccably fresh. Then there was the “ravioli,” which will challenge any conception you have about raw food, whether ordered with tomato or pesto sauce. Since raw food guidelines outlaw traditional pasta (it is cooked in boiling water), the ravioli at Cru are actually super-thin slices of rutabaga stuffed with cashew nut cheese, folded into the standard ravioli shape and served at room temperature. The richness of the “cheese” and crunch of the rutabaga wrapper, combined with the entrée’s tomato sauce (diced heirloom tomatoes, scallions and olive oil), creates a combination of flavors so fresh and so pure that you will wonder why you ever doubted raw food in the first place.
Despite this amazing meal, I was still somewhat dubious about ordering chocolate cake for dessert. A dairy-free cake is one thing, but an unbaked cake is a whole other story. Turns out I didn’t need to worry. Composed of chocolate, walnut and coconut “meat,” the cake was dense, rich and delicious. The drizzle of tart blackberry sauce on top acted as a perfect counterpoint to the intense chocolate flavor.
There is one downside to Cru, however—affordability. Organic produce does not come cheap, and the menu prices reflect this fact. Salads and appetizers are in the $10-13 range and average entrees costs around $15. While these higher prices are justified by the quality and freshness of the food, they nevertheless place Cru outside of the “starving student” realm.
Cost issues aside, I am running out of superlatives to describe Cru. The restaurant might not have throngs of fashionable women outside the door, but that is in no way a reflection of the food. Maybe they just need a cuter waiter.
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